Today, at the Buffalo Zoo, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has committed to keep Kali the polar bear at the Buffalo Zoo until Spring 2015, pending a standard U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) review in Spring 2014. Schumer noted that the Buffalo Zoo has just passed the same APHIS inspection as recently as October of this year and they expect to pass the pending 2014 review, thus keeping Kali in Buffalo until Spring 2015 at minimum. Schumer personally weighed in with the Director of the FWS Dan Ashe in early November after rumors that the agency was under pressure to move Kali to another zoo, and made the argument that Kali was best served by staying put. According to the Buffalo Zoo, there were serious concerns that Kali’s departure was imminent before Schumer stepped in, particularly because Kali has been sought after by other zoo interested in adding a polar bear exhibit. However, Schumer highlighted to Ashe that local veterinarians have attested to Kali’s improving health in Buffalo, as well as her friendship with the Zoo’s other polar bear, Luna.
“The confirmation that Kali will stay in Buffalo for the near future is a huge win all around, for the Zoo, for Buffalo, and most importantly, for Kali. Now, Kali can continue his development alongside his friend Luna, in an environment to which he’s already adapted,” said Schumer. “For frequent zoo visitors, and for the staff at the Buffalo Zoo who have watched Kali grow up from a polar bear cub, to see him go before he had a chance to reach adulthood would have been unbearable. Now, as long as all goes as the Zoo expects with its 2014 APHIS review, Kali will stay in Buffalo until at least 2015, where he is safe, healthy, and has the potential to breed.”
“The Buffalo Zoo is grateful for Senator Schumer’s active role in guaranteeing that Kali will not be subjected to any unnecessary relocations,” said the Buffalo Zoo CEO Donna Fernandes. “Kali and Luna have such a wonderful relationship that we are happy that they will remain together for this critical time in his development.”
Kali was a wild polar bear who was rescued by the FWS after a hunter killed his mother, at which point they decided that the Buffalo Zoo was the best place to keep Kali. Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns Kali, unlike Luna who is owned by the Zoo itself, it can move Kali to other zoos in search of a polar bear if it so chooses. Schumer explained to Director Ashe, however, that the same logic that applied when Kali was rescued should apply now – if the Buffalo Zoo is deemed the best place for Kali’s health and development, it should remain his home during this critical time in his development. Schumer also pointed to the recent news that the Buffalo Zoo is on track to complete its new “Arctic Edge” polar bear exhibit, which he said added another reason for Kali to stay for a longer term.
The FWS has heeded Schumer’s call, and in a letter delivered to his office in response to his conversation with Dan Ashe, committed to keep Kali in Buffalo until Spring 2015 pending a positive APHIS review in 2014. Schumer, standing in front of the current polar bear exhibit with the Buffalo Zoo CEO Donna Fernandes and representatives of the Buffalo Zoo, cited the Zoo’s recent positive APHIS review and the zoo’s confidence in the quality of their enclosure as a sign that they would pass a re-inspection in Spring 2014. The Buffalo Zoo has constructed a temporary home for Kali and Luna as they begin construction on a new, permanent polar bear exhibit.
Schumer said that keeping Kali in Buffalo was best for the animal’s health and social development. According to the Zoo’s veterinarians, Kali has adjusted well to his home in Buffalo after the traumatic circumstances of his rescue, and to move Kali in the near term would potentially hinder the 10-month old cub’s recovery. Schumer made the case to Director Ashe that Kali should stay in Buffalo at least until reaching “adulthood,” which polar bears typically achieve at 2 years of age. The commitment from U.S. Fish and Wildlife means Kali will stay in Buffalo until this critical threshold, at which point his chances of a healthy adult life will greatly increase.
With the Buffalo Zoo set to complete a brand new polar bear exhibit in September of 2015, Schumer hopes the decision to keep Kali in Buffalo in the interim greatly increases the chances of Kali staying in Buffalo long-term.